Jimmy James, Soulful Frontman of The Vagabonds, Dies at 84

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Jimmy James, the beloved frontman of The Vagabonds and the voice behind the enduring ballad “Come to Me Softly,” died on Wednesday (May 15). He was 84 years old.

The musician died in London at Northwick Park Hospital, his family told Jamaica Observer. James reportedly had Parkinson’s disease and a heart condition that ultimately led to his decision to retire from performing.

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James, who was born in Brown’s Town, Jamaica, moved to the island’s capital of Kingston to pursue music in the 1950s. He recorded songs for producers including Clement Dodd and Lindon Pottinger, the latter of which produced the early and original version of “Come to Me Softly.”

The Jamaican dance band The Vagabonds were formed in 1960, and the group relocated to the United Kingdom at the height of the British Invasion in 1964. Throughout their time together, the group played alongside fellow legends including The Who, Rod Stewart and Jimi Hendrix. They released six studio albums together: 1966’s The New Religion, 1968’s This Is Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, 1968’s Open Up Your Soul, 1975’s You Don’t Stand a Chance If You Can’t Dance, 1976’s Now and 1977’s Life.

Jimmy James & the Vagabonds released two hits that made the Billboard Hot 100: “Come to Me Softly” (which James wrote), which hit No. 76 in 1968, and “I Am Somebody,” which hit No. 94 in 1976. (In between those two hits, they bubbled under the Hot 100 with a version of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine.”)

James went on to records throughout the 1970s, with “I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me” and “Now is The Time.” He is survived by his wife Paula, his five sons, two daughters and his grandchildren.

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